I walk across the centre of Vienna on a summer morning, still cool from the rain that had fallen during the night. Am Hof, next to flower shops and a Würstelstand, there is the famous deli “Zum schwarzen Kameel”, a Louis Vuitton store, a shop of one of Austria’s baking giants “Der Mann”, and there – on the corner – the concept store Joseph Brot (“Joseph’s Bread”) by entrepreneur Josef Weghaupt.
The store is small, and as I walk in, it captivates through sleek design and high quality materials. The shelves are filled with yoghurts, mueslis, jams and chutneys. In the middle, at the heart of the shop, is the sales counter filled with sweet delights; behind it – shelves filled with rows of bread. Mothers with their kids, a young man, and an elegant lady, are only some of the customers that fill the shop this morning. The location in the city centre clearly benefits from financially strong drop-in customers that appreciate high quality.
Founder and CEO Josef enters: 32 and casually dressed, he rushes behind the counter. He arranges some freshly baked pastries and quickly takes a picture of the sweets with his phone. Social media presence is essential for modern bakers: the company’s Facebook page nearly counts 12.000 likes.
Joseph Brot is a bakery known for its artisanal production techniques and high quality baking goods from purely organic grains. Bread, pastries, and other baked goods exclusively stem from organic ingredients and are produced in his bakery in lower Austria. In an industry dominated by industrial baking giants, Josef revitalised baking as a craft and raised quality standards.
Disrupting the baking industry by going small
Growing up in lower Austria in a traditional family, his father worked for the Austrian railway company, while his mother stayed at home and took care of the house and children. His father had big dreams for him: he saw him going to soccer school at the Austrian soccer club Admira Wacker. Josef himself did not really know what he wanted to do, but, inspired by his older brother, he went to polytechnic high school to study food technology, receiving vocational training as a butcher. Soon after, he started working in the baking industry.
Joseph Brot bakery in Vienna’s city centre Photo credit: Cathrine StukhartWhile he is now known for his high quality products and craftsmanship, his beginning in the industry was different – in industrial mass production. Josef first worked for a large industrial baking company that manufactures baking goods for various large clients, who then sell them to end consumers under their own brand. The later-to-be entrepreneur steeply climbed up the career ladder: From quality manager he became head of marketing and sales, where he was heavily involved in research and product development and directly worked with the company’s CEO. Josef co-developed the product concept for organic pioneer Werner Lampert’s brand “Zurück zum Ursprung”. However after one and a half years of product development his CEO did not see the potential of the high-quality organic baking goods and refused to produce and bring them to the market at the developed quality.
Josef was shocked: After spending a long time on product development, he had built a connection to the products and was convinced of the market potential.
His time invested in product development had brought him to Paris, where he, who had only known mass production so far, visited small artisanal bakeries. He learned about the craft of baking and realised that it had been largely lost in Austria. He saw that a different quality was possible, even in industrial baking, and clearly realised the market potential for organic baking goods.
He was disappointed in his boss, and in, what he himself calls an “act of defiance”, left the company to start his own organic baking goods brand to prove that a different kind of quality was possible.
‘The act of defiance’
Josef’s initial idea was to hold the recipes and manage marketing and sales, while working together with individual bakers that would produce bread according to his recipes. He quickly had to realise that that was not possible. His traditional way of bakingbread is very labour- and knowhow-intensive: As opposed to usual Austrian bakers, he produces his own sour dough that takes four days to ferment, and two more days until the final dough is ready. All loafs are baked twice, to seal the bread crust and enhance longevity.
Josef could not find bakers that were willing to produce for him, so although unplanned, he had to start his own bakery. At this time, in 2009, many bakers had closed down and wanted to transfer their business. However prices as well as investment costs were too high in Vienna, so he had to take over a bakery 160 kilometres outside of his main distribution area, Vienna.
All products are organic Photo credit: Cathrine StukhartRaising capital also proved far from easy: his house bank did not believe in his business idea and granted him neither a loan, nor an overdraft. So Josef, who had earned well in the years before, emptied out all his savings in 2009 to buy the bakery and found Joseph Brot.
The beginning was hard: Stripped of all personal funds, “I did not pay myself a salary for a year and reached points where I wasn’t sure anymore if I would make it. The capital reserves were used up, I was only working; often I could not sleep anymore. But you have to keep going! Grit your teeth and get to it.” What kept him going was an absolute firm belief in his idea. And his pride that did not let him give up.
The day-to-day drive
So Josef, who had never thought of starting a company, kept on going and finished his first financial year without losses. He sees himself as having had “a lot of luck, I was in the right place at the right time”.
So in September 2011, he opened his first shop in the city centre of Vienna. A colleague had given him a hint to a small regional bank. They understood his business idea and gave him a loan. The concept store for Joseph Brot convinces through high quality materials and design – a red thread that Josef wants to see going through all his products and indirect materials.
Today, Joseph Brot counts a total of 57 employees, and includes the bakery in Lower Austria, the store in downtown Vienna, and an office. Their annual revenue in 2012 mounted up to 2,6 million euros. He wants to grow, and perhaps even open more shops, and sees potential in “transferring what we have achieved for bread, to other food”.
What motivates him today is his team, who understand and share the philosophy behind Joseph Brot. Having been used to work in a company with 360 employees, management trainings and reviews, running his own company feels much “more compact, more tangible, and human”.
Joseph also offers pastry Photo credit: Cathrine StukhartBetween work, family and friends
He still works seven days a week but does not see work as something annoying, on the contrary, he loves what he does. “You need to find somebody that understands that and can live with it”. His family had initially little understanding for his ambitions. They wanted him to have a stable and reliable job. Today, they are proud, but still do not grasp why their son would take on so much risk, leave his secure job and start his own company.
His friends are excited about his success, however among his old ones, he is the only entrepreneur. Interestinglyenough, his circle of friends has now expanded to clients and suppliers: “That does not happen in industrial production, that you have people that believe in your idea and support you. Everyone is focused only on himself, isolated”.
The symbiosis between him and his company has not only grown stronger, but has been expanded by a team he trusts. From the very start, the bakery has been run autonomously by his business partner, with whom he worked at his former employer. Also the shop is independently managed. Josef says he is happy about the talents and capabilities his partners bring in “I know what I can do and what my partners can do”.
Back in the shop things are busy with customers lining up. Business is business, so back to work it is.